A special day. (1)

Make today special

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Missouri Special Olympics. My job was to help at the award station. There were about 20 of us assigned to this station. We were all from different backgrounds and different walks of life. We represented several generations and to my knowledge, only two of us had volunteered at this event in the past. We were a team of optimistic rookies.

Before the events began we were given our instructions and then we waited, and waited, and waited. I began to wonder why they had assigned so many of us to the award station and I questioned if my time could be better spent at another station.

And then it happened. Mulitple events finished at the same time and the athletes, their buddies, event escorts, and family members descended upon the award station. They arrived excited and in anticipation of receiving their awards. Little did they know that this ragtag group of volunteers didn’t have a well-oiled system in place.

Before we knew it we were experiencing a slow-moving and unorganized awards ceremony. It took us a few minutes to realize, “this isn’t working” and then we adjusted our plan on the fly and created a much better experience for everyone involved.

But here is why the experience was so special. At no point in the day did anyone express frustration. Athletes and their buddies had to stand in a long line – no problem. Family members had to wait a while to see their loved ones receive an award – no problem. Volunteers were asked to fill different roles to keep things moving – no problem. On some deep human level, everyone just decided that today was going to be special. We unconsciously agreed that we were going to bring our best as well as bring out the best in others.

And here is what I learned; it was a choice to make that day special. We all made the choice to smile, laugh and offer an endless amount of compliments, words of encouragement, and high-fives to strangers.

Every single day you have the opportunity to offer good to the world. The choice really is yours.

Choose to make today special.


How deep are your roots?

When I was a kid there was a tree in our front year. I used to race home from elementary school to climb that tree. I wanted to see just how high I could climb. I loved to push my luck as I inched dangerously higher and higher than the day before. As a kid, it was all about how high I could climb but as an adult I often find myself thinking more about a tree’s roots and less about how high the branches extend.

Roots matter. They provide a tree with the nutrients it needs to survive. Deep roots also provide a tree with the stability it needs to withstand a storm. Strong winds may come but a tree with deep roots will survive that storm.

But the redwood trees are an exception to this truth. These trees often grow to well over 300 feet tall and many can be found standing strong at 20 plus feet in diameter. People travel the globe just to see the redwoods with their own eyes. These trees tower over all other trees and their height alone should make them susceptible to damage. A redwood should be an easy target in a heavy rainstorm, a tornado, or when lightning is present, but these trees are very resilient. By looking at a redwood one could easily assume that their roots go to the center of the earth to supply all the nutrients and stability that such a massive living structure would need to survive. But that isn’t the case. The redwoods have a unique root system that typically goes just 6-12 feet deep. How is it possible that these trees rarely fall over?

The redwoods stay standing because their shallow roots intertwine with the roots of the other redwood trees so they are literally holding each other up. The trees grow in close proximity to each other so they can share nutrients and physically support each other. Beneath the surface, it’s as if the redwoods are standing with their arms locked together. They are saying, “we are in this together, we are one, if you want to knock one of us down, you’ll have to knock us all down.” Their roots provide strength and their strength lies in their connection with each other.

The moral of the story? Plant yourself next to good people and find ways to purposefully connect with them.  When you do you will find that you can survive the most difficult trials by relying on and providing for those around you.

Being connected to others matters. When people and teams stay connected they share their resources and provide strength for each other and when that happens everyone has the potential to grow to new heights.

What are your roots connected to?

This is good, again ...

“This is Good,” again…

Like most other speaking engagements I found myself standing before 30 high school student-athletes sharing my favorite story. I share this story with every group I work with. Honestly, I find it to be much more than a story; for me, it is a way of life.

The story is called “This Is Good” and the message is all about perspective. The reality is when bad, negative, or frustrating things happen we each have a choice in terms of how we want to respond. We don’t have to know how something difficult is going to be good, but the idea is to simply leave the door of possibility open that something good can come from something bad. In the face adversity can you say, “this is good?”

I shared the story and encouraged the student-athletes to have a “this is good” mindset. I also warned them that when they embrace this mindset life will present them with plenty of opportunities to think, believe, and respond by saying “this is good!”

The next morning I woke up at 5am to head to the airport for my 7am departing flight. As I grabbed my phone off the charger I realized there was an issue with my flight. It hadn’t been delayed, it had been canceled. Urgh. I quickly called the airline and they told me I had been re-booked on a 2pm flight. I hung up the phone just as my friend/host was asking if it was time to go to the airport? I replied, “go back to bed, my flight has been canceled.” I’m not sure who said it first but the words “this is good” were certainly spoken.

In that moment I had a choice to make; be angry or believe that in some way this could be good. I chose to embrace a “this is good” mindset. As a result, I got to sleep in – YES! And my friend/host and I had lunch with another person I really needed to meet. So yes, my canceled flight was in fact good.

And for the record, my 2pm flight was delayed until 7:45pm which meant I would miss my 5pm connecting flight so my friend/host drove me a couple hundred miles directly to the airport of my connecting flight and the entire way I kept thinking, “this is good.”

Try it, but believe me when I say, if you embrace a “this is good” mindset you will suddenly see so many times when you can put it into practice … but it’s worth it.

Trust me, this is really good …

-So you want me to shoot more-

“So you want me to shoot more?”

Years ago, I recruited a very good soccer player to the college team I was working with. She was the “real deal” and I was so excited to have the opportunity to coach her! She made great decisions off the field, was an A student, a great teammate, managed her time well, and she was a talented soccer player – what a combination!

But the truth is I struggled to coach her during her freshman year. It wasn’t her work ethic or an attitude problem, it was a communication issue. It was like we were speaking two different languages. Here is what our conversations often sounded like when I was giving her feedback:

“We need you to get higher into the attack.” … “So you want me to shoot more?” …”No, but give yourself some freedom when we have possession.” …”So I don’t need to track back as much?” …”No, you still need to track back but you can move into that space more.”… “So you want me to …”

Ultimately, I would get frustrated and she would be on the field totally confused about what we needed from her. And let me be clear, this was a player I adored and I knew she was trying her very best, but we just couldn’t get on the same page.

When the seasoned ended I knew I had to make a change, I owed it to this student-athlete to figure out how to help her to be at her best. I made an appointment with the Director of our Academic Support Center and I explained the situation. I ask if there was any insight she could provide on how this student-athlete processes information because what I was doing CLEARLY wasn’t working.

The Director asked me if I was familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and I nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement! I had been a fan of this assessment for many years but I had never considered using it with a student-athlete.

I met with this player and I explained that I was frustrated with our communication. Like many student-athletes, she immediately thought she had done something wrong. I was quick to explain that was not the case. As a coach and an educator, I took full responsibility for not being able to teach her in a way that works for her. I strongly believe as coaches we need to adapt to the unique needs of our players and I had not done a good job of that with her.

She was open to taking the MBTI and the results were amazing! She and I were wired very differently and in the stressful moments of a game I was digging it to how I like to learn (assuming that everyone is just like me) and she needed the opposite. I was literally coaching/teaching her as backwards as I could – no wonder she was confused! But the MBTI gave me a very clear understanding of what she needed from me as her coach. As a result, we were able to come up with a plan and I adjusted how I gave her feedback to allow her to be at her best.

I am so grateful that we had an Academic Support Center, that I had a student-athlete who was willing to try something outside the box, and that together we figured how she best learns.

Years later I made the decision to become a certified practitioner of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I can now help others with this process. If you’d like to talk about how the MBTI can help you understand yourself and those around you please click here.

Oh, and her sophomore year, well, that was fun. She was a beast, but more important was the deeper connection we developed in the process. Our student-athletes deserve to have our best and sometimes that means we need to ask for help.

My experience says it is worth it.

The Storm is coming

The storm is coming!!!

During the month of August, I worked with a large number of athletic teams, college student groups, and educators who were gearing up for the school year. Most of them brought me in to do team building. While the focus for each group was different most teams/groups at least touched on communication issues, conflict resolution, and teamwork.

I worked with one college group that had just moved into their dorm rooms that day. They literally just met each other. After our first session, one of the students said to me, “thank you so much for being here! We’ve never been this close as a group!” I fought the urge to say, “Um, yeah, well you just met 12 hours ago, so you haven’t had much time for drama!”

Team Development

We know that in the process of building a team/group you will go through several stages of development. The four standard stages are: forming, storming, norming, and performing. The clients I worked with this month were all in the forming stage which is a very happy place to be. Everyone is on their best behavior, the sky is the limit, and life couldn’t be better! But with each group, I warned them about what was coming – the storming stage!

Too many teams/groups fear the storming stage. While it can feel like a set back (“we were so happy and now we are not happy”) this is NOT a setback, it is actually a step forward towards a healthy and authentic team or group! Here are some ways to deal with the storm:

  1. Prepare and plan! During the forming stage, it is important to educate your team/group on the four stages of team development. There is a natural assumption that the forming stage will last forever. This is a false sense of reality, in fact, a team/group can NOT be successful if they stay in the forming stage because they aren’t an authentic team yet. By talking with your team/group about the different stages you can prepare them for what will come. It is also important during the forming stage that you develop the skills you will need to navigate the storming stage. I often remind teams/groups that the work we are doing now will be needed when the storm arrives. If you don’t prepare and have a plan you may have a team/group that gets stuck in the storming stage.
  2. Acknowledge where you are. Too many teams/groups fail to even acknowledge that they have entered the storming stage! When you acknowledge where you are you can put your plan and skills into action. Remember the storming stage IS a step forward and you should celebrate progress! By simply acknowledging that you have entered a new stage you are able to refocus your team/group on your plan for this stage of development. 
  3. Clarify roles. Teams/groups often get stuck in the storming stage because the lack of clarity leads to chaos and in the chaos a team/group loses their sense of connection. For the leader, it may seem obvious in regards to who needs to fill what role, but as shifting takes place a sense of direction may be lost which can lead to frustration.  It is critical in the storming stage that leaders clarify roles with great detail.
  4. Articulate the value of each role. While team/group members may be asked to serve in a role they would not have picked for themselves they are more likely to embrace their role if they understand the value in their given role. Look for moments to celebrate people who are making the team/group better within their given role. Make a point of articulating the value of every single role.
  5. Communicate that this isn’t a permanent role. It will be important that you help your people to develop additional skills so that in the future they have the potential to serve in more desired roles. For example, on a soccer team during the storming stage, a player may discover that she is the 3rd string goal keeper and she isn’t likely to get playing time this season. This may be a disappointment but it is manageable if she understands that this role isn’t permanent, it is simply where she ranks today.

While the storming stage isn’t easy we need to repurpose this stage of team/group development. Instead of seeing it as frustrating, disappointing, or as a set back consider celebrating this stage because you are one stage closer to become an authentic high performing team/group.

Ultimately, the storm will lead you to a better place.

If you’d like to talk about how I can help your team/group to be better equipped to move through the storm please reach out. Remember, the first step is to prepare!

Do I lead from the front or the back-

Do I lead from the front or the back?

The old-school model of leadership says; the leader is always in the front, at the top, and the first to be seen. As I work with groups, I teach a different model of which leadership which asks leaders to shift from a model of hierarchy to a model that views leadership as influence. With this model, we can, and should, lead from a variety of positions.

I recently had a Skype sessions with three young college leaders as a part of my Leaders In Action program. These three leaders are “all in” when it comes to understanding leadership as influence. In our last session, they asked something like, “So how do put this new understanding of leadership (leadership as influence) into practice when there might be times that we need to step in front and lead the way?”

My answer was that we need to lead from many places because we can influence others from any position. There are times when we need to get out in front of the group, times we need to walk with our people, and other times when we need to go last. Great leaders are willing to lead from any position.

I want to share a video with you that so clearly demonstrates these points. In this short clip, you will see a young man in a wheelchair who is competing in a Tough Mudder competition. He reached an obstacle where he needed some help. Here you go:

Let’s look at a few things:

  1. Some people led from the front: In this clip, we can see that he needed some help from those who were leading from the front. They had cleared the way and were willing to help him get to that same place. In order for a leader to be able to serve those who are behind us, we have to be willing to do two things: stop and turn around. Too many leaders who lead from the front fail to stop and turn around. We can’t take care of our people if we aren’t able to really see their needs.
  2. Some people led from the back: We can also see that he need help from those who were behind him. They were able to provide the push and support he needed to accomplish his goal. If we only want to lead from the front we will miss some wonderful opportunities to help our people. In order to lead from behind we often have to sacrifice our own agenda and go at the pace of our people while offering whatever support they need to push forward. 
  3. Sometimes we join others in leadership: One of the great truths showcased in this video is the idea that we need leaders who will support other leaders. What I mean by that is this; when someone steps up and leads (the first person who was helping to help push this young man) we need others to support that leader (the second leader arrives to help the first leader) because it validates their decision to lead. When that happens others (an entire group) join the first few leaders and now the entire group is moving in the same direction. So look at that clip again, do you see it? One leader helps someone else, and then a second leader joins that effort, and then others quickly join the leadership moment. It takes one person stepping up, someone else supporting that leader, and then the magic happens.
  4. Sometimes we need to let others lead us: This moment wouldn’t have happened without the young man who was willing to let others lead him. Too often as leaders, we assume that we can never be led but we need to be open to the moments when we let others lead us. At the heart of leadership is a desire to develop more leaders. When we allow others to lead us we are directly participating in the development of more leaders.

So do you lead from the front or the back? It’s both for sure. And it’s also a lot of places in between …

*If I can be of assistance in your own leadership development journey please use the Get in Touch form at the bottom of this page.


Myth #3: “Our school has a contract with a guy who speaks to all the student-athletes once a year.”

In regards to leadership development plenty of coaches have told me, “Our school has a contract with a guy who speaks to all the student-athletes once a year.” And that’s it. End of conversation. They can check it off their list. Leadership development, done. One less thing to worry about.

Let me ask you some questions:

Do you practice once a year?
Lift once a year?
Do you measure your fitness goals once a year?
Work on set-pieces once a year?
Do you warm-up and cool-down once a year?
Look at grade checks once a year?
Do you call recruits once a year?
Practice penalty kicks once a year?
Do you work on the fundamentals once a year?
Go over scouting reports once a year?
Do you give a pregame talk once a year?

Those questions are absurd to even ask. You do those things on a regular basis because they matter to your program. Those things directly impact your ability to be successful and your players know it. Leadership development needs to be added to that list.

The message we send to our players when we talk about leadership once a year is that it is something we are supposed to do rather than something we value. If you want buy-in from your players then leadership development has to be integrated into your program.

There are many ways to integrate leadership development within your program. You can implement leadership development curriculum with your entire team, do weekly leadership assessments, complete team service projects, set up leadership mentors for your players, as a team read a book on leadership, have your players write a team definition of leadership, study other teams that value leadership, watch a TED Talk each week on various leadership topics, listen to leadership podcasts, show highlight clips of leadership moments on the field, or provide tangible opportunities where your players are empowered to lead.

But a critical first step is to start talking about the value of leadership. A simple way to do this is to identify and praise the moments when our players do lead. One of the things I believe about leadership is the idea that great leaders do the dirty work. Great leaders are willing to do what no one else wants to do. They will do the thankless jobs that others walk away from. In the sport of soccer, one of the ways to do the dirty work is to sacrifice your body to prevent giving up a corner kick. When I see a player sprint to a ball that everyone else assumes is going out, then slide across turf to kick the ball out for a throw-in and stand up with three layers of skin now missing from the back of her legs you better believe I am going to mark that as a clear leadership moment. It doesn’t take more than 30 seconds out of training for me to stop and praise that player for leading by doing the dirty. What we talk about and praise will be repeated.

When coaches regularly talk about leadership we send the message that we value leadership. If we talk about leadership once a year, then we should expect to see leadership from our players about once a year and we all know that isn’t going to get us where we want to be.

Do you need more ideas on integrating leadership development within your program? Stay tuned, more is on the way! But if you need ideas now please reach out, phone calls are always free. We’d be glad to talk with you about our curriculum and other resources to help you integrate leadership within your program.


Myth #1: “…we don’t have money in our budget for that.”

When I talk to coaches about investing in their players as leaders the most common response I hear is something like, “I’d love for our players to have better leadership skills but we don’t have money in our budget for that.

I want you to know that I get it. I’ve been there. I totally understand where you are coming from! I spent years at two terribly underfunded NCAA programs. I worried that weather delays might force a game to the next day and I stressed about how we’d pay for the additional hotel rooms and extra meals. I was told to increase my roster size but we didn’t get an increase in our budget to feed, clothe or house our additional players. We bought team meals at the grocery store to save funds and I often drove my own car on recruiting trips. If your budget is beyond tight, I want you to know, I understand.

But there are two things I know about coaches:

  1. I know that coaches are insanely resourceful. You work with others across campus to maximize Unofficial Visits. You find creative ways to put together financial packages for your recruits. You think outside the box to make sure your Official Visits are the very best. You use your summer camps to sell your program. You use Social Media to connect with recruits and to tell your story. You use FaceTime to give a campus tour to a recruit who can’t yet visit. You apply funds from camps and clinics to pay your overworked part-time coaches. You are resourceful and you are a master problem solver.
  2. I also know that coaches spend money on the things that matter. Coaches may prioritize differently, but every coach I have ever worked with spends money on the things that matter. For some coaches that means spending more on team meals, or on quality training gear, or high-level travel accommodations and for others it means investing in the recruiting process. There is no right or wrong answer to how you spend your money but there is a consistent pattern of investing in the things that matter to you.

So it comes down to this; does leadership and personal development matter to you? If so, it’s time to get creative.

I’ll outline some options in the coming weeks.

If you want to connect with me more about your options please reach out. You can use the “Get in Touch” form on the homepage of my website. You can also follow me on twitter @mollygrisham.


Life in the trenches

As I look back on the last six months I am amazed at the opportunities that have come my way. For the most part, my mindset has been to simply walk through open doors exploring whatever I find. I have spent much of the last six months saying yes to new opportunities. But as I look back there is one opportunity that I said no to and I have learned more from that one decision than from anything that I have said yes to.

I was asked to speak at an event. On paper, I should have said yes without a second thought. I love public speaking, it was a large event and it was my target audience. The event host is someone I respect and someone who has had a significant influence in my life. But something didn’t feel right about this opportunity and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I was feeling.

Here is what I learned about myself; I want to work with the people who are in the trenches with me. I want to support the people who have been a part of my journey, the people who take my late night phone calls and offer words of encouragement even when I don’t know I need it. The people who believe in me even when I question myself, the ones who show up in my life, and listen deeply,  and ask, “how can I help?” The people who remind me of who I am and who I want to become. The people who point out that indeed I can take it farther. The people who support me with their thoughts, words, and actions. The people who jump in and get dirty long before things get crazy. And the truth is, for the last six months this guy has been nowhere to be found and that hurts. His support, his endorsement, his encouragement, a few nods on social media would mean the world to me, but it has been nothing but silence from him and silence speaks volumes. I guess I hadn’t noticed the silence because those in the trenches with me have been so loud and full of rowdy encouragement.

Each time I reread his invitation I felt small and forgotten. But those in the trenches with me make me feel larger than life and that is where I want to focus my energy. After much thought, I realized I needed to say no to this opportunity. My decision was not rooted in anger or resentment. I simply knew that saying no to that opportunity would give me more time with the people in the trenches. Those are my people and that’s where I want to be.

But here is the thing about life in the trenches … it’s not my trench, I don’t own it. It’s a great group of people who are willing to support each other, to get dirty and dig a little deeper as we try to use our influence to make the world a better place. There are no walls that divide us. No lines that define when you are helping me and when I am helping you, it’s just people helping people for the common good of humanity. We are moving mountains and we are doing it together. I am there for you, you are there for me, and I’ll say yes to opportunities to support these people any chance I get. Time with them is time well spent.

The people in the trenches,
they matter,
they are the difference makers and that is where I want to be.
Say yes to the people in the trenches …


Positional Power

As I walked down the hallway I passed a variety of typical Halloween decorations; pumpkins, cobwebs, black cats and everything orange, it was a sea of orange! Then I saw something that caught my eye, enough so that I had to stop and take a closer look. It was a ghost, who appeared dark and evil, holding a sign that said “free hugs.” I knew needed to take a picture of it, I felt like there was something there, but I wasn’t sure what it was yet.

On my drive home, I continued to think about what I had seen. I am not one to get scared or startled by images of a darker nature, but I just couldn’t shake the thought of a ghost offering free hugs. The image made me feel uncomfortable and nervous, I would even say it was unsettling. It was such a mixed message. On one hand, it looked scary, like something that you would want to stay away from, but on the other hand, it was offering free hugs and who doesn’t want free hugs? This simple image was such a strong contradiction. And then it hit me, I’ve worked for people for whom this imagine could be their logo.

This image is what Positional Power feels like to me. Positional Power is thought of by many to be a fundamental elemental of leadership, but I couldn’t disagree more. The is no room for Positional Power in leadership. Positional Power is that which is gained by authority, by rank or title. Positional Power is also one-directional, the “leader” is the only one who is good enough to have anything to offer.  This could come in the form of any unilateral decision. It functions under the guise of leadership but it is far from leadership. Positional Power operates from the perspective that I am above you, I have something you don’t have, and I have something you need. You should want what I have to offer you regardless of how it makes you feel because you are less than me. Positional Power may also create a structure in which you owe the leader, often in the form of blind loyalty and support. See, it doesn’t feel right, kind of like a ghost offering hugs.

Relationship Influence is what I consider to be the heart of healthy leadership. Unlike Positional Power this model is rooted in equality. Relational Influence functions with the understanding that we all have something to offer. That we each grow in the process of giving and receiving in acts of service towards others. It also completely dismantles any form of hierarchy and creates space for all to contribute. With Relational Influence each person is valued and seen as someone with something to contribute. And, one of the tell-tale marks of Relational Influence is the fact that it feels good and people want to be a part of it. Unlike a ghost offering free hugs, people gravitate towards others who are rooted in Relationship Influence.

I’ve worked for a variety of so-called leaders and there is a clear trend. When your boss “leads” from Positional Power you will work FOR her, but when your boss embraces Relational Influence you will work WITH her because she knows you have as much to offer as she does. Unfortunately, many people in Positional Power are blind to the fact that their power is inauthentic because it resides in a title, one they cannot outright own. They might be the President of a company today, but Presidents come and go and their Positional Power will remain in that office when they leave. But people who lead from Relational Influence are not dependent on that title, their “power” is authentic because it comes from within and they are able to take it with them wherever they go.

So think about the way you lead. Do you find yourself thinking from a hierarchical perspective forcing your free “gifts” on others? Or, do you freely share with those around you allowing them to take what they need as well as offer their own gifts to the group? I certainly hope it is the latter.

The world needs more leaders who embrace Relational Influence and less ghosts offering free hugs….